Most of what one feels compelled to write stems from a deep, emotional uncertainty. In my life, as is the case with many people I know, the most uncertain things are relationships with those I'm closest to. I have family members in the small, nuclear unit, as well as the larger unit, toward whom I have a great deal of affection, and there are others toward whom I have tremendous antipathy. It's typical in family situations to be forced into contact, repeatedly, with people you don't particularly like.
You work out your future social abilities and relationships based on what you learn when you are young. For me, these relationships have always been familial. My father and two of his brothers owned property in Colorado, and we would all go there each summer. During the winter, we lived in Kansas, close to my mother's family. There was a constant, rotating band of family members in and out of my house and life.
I'm not entirely sure why I write about family, but I do know that it hasn't stopped interesting me. You meet and leave other people at different stages of your evolution, whereas family is made up of people who are links in your life, who know you over the course of time and have your complete curriculum vitae in their heads.
How is this related to the family as our main battleground, as you've called it?
Middle-class American writers are always going to look for conflict as a source of tension within the family. People question this subject matter because young workshop writers often write about their families and homes. This is because the family is where they've experienced conflict. They aren't being recruited into guerilla armies at the age of thirteen. In some other countries, drama exists elsewhere, outside the house. Most often in America, the trouble seems to come within the household. At certain times, writers are called to defend domestic fiction.
In what way have you been called to defend your work on a specific level—as a woman writer, for instance—that differs from having to defend it regardless of gender?
There are plenty of men who write about family, but when I'm asked to explain what I do, it often seems that there's some implicit understanding that novels or stories that tackle political or societal drama are serving more serious masters. It's not necessarily that the treatment of characters in these works is a masculine one. It's just that the terrain outside the home is often considered more important. I don't think it is.